Several years ago, the internet was filled with stories from people claiming that living on $500 a month in Thailand is not only possible, but also gives you some sort of a royalty status as that amount of dollars equals to a fortune in the South East Asian country.
Basically, any city in Thailand – from Chiang Mai to Phuket and Bangkok – is considered a heaven for cheap living. This is why the country is such a popular destinations for digital nomads and travelers from all over the world.
But how cheap is it, really? Can you still live in Thailand on $500 a month? And if so, will you really live like a Queen or King for that amount? These are the questions that I’m planning to answer in today’s article.
Living in Thailand on $500 a month (in Chiang Mai)
The most popular city in Thailand for digital nomads, Chiang Mai is also one of the most expensive in the country. It’s actually a lot more cheaper than the lesser known cities, just like everywhere in the world.
But you can still live on $500 a month in Chiang Mai – or anywhere in Thailand, maybe except for Bangkok and the resorts.
What kind of lifestyle should you expect if you have a budget of $500 a month in Thailand?
Accommodation prices in Thailand
One of the biggest expenses will be accommodation. You can still find decent rooms for as low as $100 per month: we’re talking about studios that are not in the best areas, wireless internet that’s not completely crappy, a bed and a small place to hang your clothes, a desk and a table… and maybe air conditioning.
It will look like a cheap hotel room in most occasions. You’ll usually have a small fridge, but rarely a kitchen area: you’ll have a small electric oven at most and very little storage space. So not much.
No, this is not a king’s castle, but for a single person it might work perfectly! Also, expect to pay about $50 more for all the utilities and bills (although they could be lower depending on how you live).
Finding a place to rent – even like this – for $100 per month is becoming more and more of a challenge in the larger cities. I think that realistically you should expect to pay around $150 for such a studio and up to $300 per month for something that is more livable.
So with a budget of $500 per month, you can’t be extremely picky when it comes to the place you stay – especially if you’re traveling solo. If you have a partner and you split costs (and the bed), things get better.
Food costs in Thailand
Food costs in Thailand are extremely low. A decent budget if you’re not very picky can be of $9 per day, which includes three meals and eating out each time.
Do some home cooking and things will get even cheaper, but do have in mind that if you’re renting a $100 studio, chances are that cooking at home will be almost impossible!
Yes, as incredible as it sounds, you can easily eat out for very small amounts of money. Actually, you can feed yourself with $1 per meal once your system gets used to the shadier/local food stalls, but just to keep things safer, I’d keep the average to $3 per meal.
Of course, if you go to more touristy places or better restaurants, you can expect to pay $10 – $15 for a burger and fries, but if you can live on different types of rice, wonton soup, fried vegetables and all the other goodies that Thailand has to offer (and you should, since you’re there!) then a budget of $270 per month for food will be enough.
Of course, this is not the healthiest food in the world. Rice, fried stuff… these will eventually have an impact on your overall health, so it’s not really sustainable, but if you are young, in a good shape and exercise a lot, it won’t be that bad for a while.
Other costs when living in Thailand long term
Adding the numbers, we’re already spending about $420 on food and accommodation (although you can save about $50 more if you’re really frugal and careful).
This leaves us with about $100 for everything else: entertainment, transportation, toiletries and other expenses.
No, that’s not a lot, but it’s doable. There are free entertainment options in Thailand, the most important being free beaches (but not in Chiang Mai, which is far from any beach!) but just walking up and down the streets, people-watching and enjoying life can be enough.
Drinks are pretty expensive, so have in mind that a few nights out will really blow your remaining budget! Join a gym instead or spend that money on a coworking space to meet new people and make friends!
But it is doable. With the proper mind set, with the proper frugality and food preferences, you can still live in Thailand on $500. But don’t expect to live like a king!
You will live a modest… or even a very modest life with little to no entertainment. Remember that you are an expat, a foreigner there and many people will try to take advantage of you, selling you overpriced items and expecting you to have a lot more money than you do. So this might not feel very well…
You should, until you learn the prices and how to haggle if needed, only buy from places where the prices are exposed and from which the locals buy.
The hidden costs
The biggest problem is that if any unexpected, larger expense hits you and you don’t have anything above the $500 a month budget, you could be in big trouble.
There are also other hidden costs that most people don’t take into account, although they should: apart from what you will spend monthly for living there, you should also budget for things like:
Your plane tickets, traveling to other countries for the so-called visa runs (which are harder and harder these days), the actual visa costs, health insurance costs… although low and in most cases a one-off fee, they do add up and they increase the actual monthly budget.
Do you have Netflix? Do you have other monthly costs? They all add up!
So if it’s your first time visiting Thailand – no matter if you choose Chiang Mai or other less expensive (or more expensive) areas, it will be difficult to live on just $500. Not impossible, but difficult for most people out there. And you’ll definitely not live like a king!
I would personally say that a bare minimum budget for people who wish to live in Thailand should be $700 per month. If you have $1,000 per month, then you can already live a very comfortable life and even afford some luxury every now and then.
It all depends on how much money you have and where you’re coming from. If you’re living in the US right now and your monthly budget is $500, then definitely get into the first plane to Thailand!
You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck here. And you will surely meet a ton of great people, because Chiang Mai – and most of Thailand – is full of expats, from those spending a few thousand dollars per month to those living on $500.
What do you think about this? Is this type of frugal living a thing you think you can do? Have you experienced life in Thailand and maybe want to share your story? Let us know by commenting below!